Unusual yet usable: 5 intriguing gadgets for work and play

Looking for an out-of-the-ordinary Father's Day gift -- or a treat for yourself? Each of these gadgets goes a bit off the beaten path without sacrificing usability.

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A hidden truth of innovative new tech products is that they sometimes have fatal flaws or simply don't work that well. This can be true for low-cost gadgets, such as a plant sensor that accurately reads soil quality but sends a signal over a flaky Bluetooth connection, as well as high-end products, such as an electric car that's fast and sporty but lasts for only 80 miles on a charge.

The following five gadgets break that mold. Not only are they ingenious, they're also practical: a solar keyboard that works even in your windowless cubicle, ski goggles that show you your speed and distance as you snake down the slopes, a tiny mobile mouse that's actually comfortable to use. Each of these clever products works as promised, and some you might just find yourself reaching for every day.

A mouse that (finally!) replaces your laptop touchpad

Swiftpoint Mouse

Here's an age-old conundrum: Most laptop touchpads are not that accurate or comfortable to use, yet lugging along a full-size desktop mouse just takes up more room in your laptop bag. Hardware manufacturers have offered scaled-down travel mice for years, but they tend to feel cramped and awkward to use.

Enter the Swiftpoint Mouse ($70). At 2.5 x 2.0 x 1.5 inches, it weighs only 1 ounce and works on top of your laptop or on a desk. Amazingly, this tiny, strange-looking mouse is just as accurate as a desktop mouse and more comfortable to use, since it has a better ergonomic angle. Your hand doesn't need to scrunch up in a ball to use it; instead, you hold its side indentations with your thumb and middle finger, with your forefinger resting on top of the device. A word of warning, though: You'll need a bit of practice to get the hang of it.

The mouse charges from the USB receiver that plugs into your laptop -- you just place the mouse on a small clip on the receiver and it charges in about 90 minutes for 3 to 4 weeks of use. It works with both Windows and Mac OS X computers.

Next: Ski goggles for the smart set

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